The balance of bacteria in your vagina is important in keeping you, and your reproductive tract, healthy. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) happens when the normal balance of vaginal bacteria is replaced by high numbers of anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that don’t need oxygen to grow). The symptoms can range from a fishy or unpleasant odor to itching, discomfort, and inflammation (1).
Research has found about 3 in 10 people in the US have BV at any given time, though around 84% of participants had no vaginal symptoms (2). In many cases, the most significant impact of symptomatic BV is emotional and social, especially for people whose BV returns multiple times despite treatment. One study found that, depending on the severity and frequency of symptoms, BV can lead people to feel “…embarrassed, ashamed, or ‘dirty’” (3).
Talking about BV can help people understand that it’s a common experience, and nothing to be ashamed of. Discussing this research, we realized that many of us at Clue had experienced BV. Here are some of our stories:
“I had no symptoms of BV. I went for my annual checkup at my OB/GYN and got a call with my results about a week later. The person on the phone—I assume a lab technician or nurse—told me I had ‘gardnerella,’ the medical term for BV. With the language barrier and German accent, I thought she said I had “gonorrhea.” I panicked and repeated back to her, “I have gonorrhea?!” And she confirmed yes, and told me to go to the pharmacy and purchase ‘Fluominzin,’ which are vaginal suppositories to treat BV. I was so confused and panicked, I called my partner immediately and he was very calm and supportive. Things were cleared up later that day with the help of [Clue’s] science team and when I finally got in touch with my doctor. I took the prescription at night before going to sleep for about 5 or 6 days. A few weeks later, I had to return to the OB/GYN to check if the BV cleared up. The treatment was successful.” - Claire, Content Producer
“I was only 12 when I had it, and still hadn’t had my menarche. One day, my vulva started itching a lot, and during the following days it only worsened. So I told my mom and she brought me to her gynecologist. It was my first gynecological visit ever! He diagnosed the BV and gave me a liquid treatment to apply regularly. After few days everything went back to normal. Thankfully it didn’t affect me on a social level, and I kept going to school during those days.I had a second case when I was 23, but this time I was more familiar with it and I knew that after a visit and the right treatment I’d be good, so I wasn’t so scared.” - Anonymous
“I started getting BV for the first time when I got my copper IUD (I eventually learned it was because my bleeding/periods were so long and because long bleeding can increase the risk of BV). For many months, I didn’t realize I had it. I thought my discharge maybe had changed because of the copper IUD, but I wasn’t sure. It didn’t smell fishy, but more metallic, so it didn’t seem to fit any typical lists of symptoms. I didn’t have any itching. It got bad enough that it became something I was very self-conscious about. It was stressful to have something changing and not know what was going on. I went to the OB/GYN and they said I had BV. I got treated for it but it basically came back every time I had my (10+ day) period. My period didn’t ever get shorter during my year with a copper IUD, and the BV recurred several times—I did the treatment about 5 times. It affected my day-to-day, as well as my sex life, because of course I became pretty self-conscious of it. I got my IUD removed and the BV stopped immediately and I haven’t had it since.” - Anonymous
“I found out I had BV at my yearly exam with my gynecologist. I’d gone in to ask about getting an IUD, and while examining me, she said that I had ‘just a little bit of BV.’ I had to ask her what that was. I had noticed a bit of a fishy smell from time to time, but I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. So I felt a little bit of shame knowing that I’d had this infection for a while without knowing it—had my boyfriend noticed? Had anyone else? She prescribed me Metrogel, an antibiotic with a funny little syringe-like applicator that reminded me of Push Pops. I applied the Metrogel every night for five days, and the smell cleared up right away. One thing that was somewhat difficult was not being allowed to have sex during the treatment. Not being able to have sex made me want to have sex even more than I normally would have, probably. My doctor also recommended using a boric acid suppository after the antibiotic treatment, but I couldn’t find any at the pharmacies in my neighborhood, so I ended up skipping that. It was no big deal! I’ve been so relieved to learn about how common BV is, and to learn from colleagues at Clue that they’ve also had it.” - Amanda, Editor
BV is a common condition and nothing to feel embarrassed about. If you’re looking for more information, here’s what we wrote about vaginal discharge and Bacterial Vaginosis symptoms and treatment. If you notice any unusual smell or discharge, check with your healthcare provider. While BV doesn’t usually lead to health complications, if left untreated it can sometimes lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infection after gynecologic surgery, or pregnancy complications including miscarriage and preterm birth (2, 4, 5).
Bringing knowledge of BV into public awareness helps prevent the stress that can come with having it. If you’re up to it, talk about BV with your partners and friends. Or share your experience with Clue on Twitter or Instagram.
Download Clue to track your fluids and learn more about your vaginal health.
- Workowski KA, Berman SM. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sexually transmitted disease treatment guidelines. Clinical infectious diseases. 2011 Dec 15;53(suppl 3):S59–63.
- Allsworth JE, Peipert JF. Prevalence of bacterial vaginosis: 2001–2004 national health and nutrition examination survey data. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2007 Jan 1;109(1):114–20.
- Bilardi JE, Walker S, Temple-Smith M, McNair R, Mooney-Somers J, Bellhouse C, Fairley CK, Chen MY, Bradshaw C. The burden of bacterial vaginosis: women’s experience of the physical, emotional, sexual and social impact of living with recurrent bacterial vaginosis. PloS one. 2013 Sep 11;8(9):e74378.
- Lewis WG, Robinson LS, Gilbert NM, Perry JC, Lewis AL. Degradation, foraging, and depletion of mucus sialoglycans by the vagina-adapted Actinobacterium Gardnerella vaginalis. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2013 Apr 26;288(17):12067–79.
- Donders GG, Van Bulck B, Caudron J, Londers L, Vereecken A, Spitz B. Relationship of bacterial vaginosis and mycoplasmas to the risk of spontaneous abortion. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 2000 Aug 31;183(2):431–7.